Airline travel expect to take a dive


HILO — While the rest of the state is enjoying a boost, Hawaii Island is expected to welcome fewer airline visitors this year compared to 2012.

However, there will be a silver lining for Hilo in 2013: A United Airlines representative said Friday the airline intends to restart its weekly, nonstop flights between Hilo and San Francisco during the busier summer months.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported Friday that ticket sales for airline seats to the state are projected to grow by 6.8 percent in 2013. But Hawaii Island will see decreases at both Hilo and Kona international airports, at 11.6 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively.

According to the tourism authority, the state had a record-breaking year in 2012, with just over 10 million air seats sold. That number is expected to climb to 10.75 million this year, the HTA says.

Statewide, domestic seats are anticipated to increase from 6.89 million to 7.12 million, while international air seats will grow from 3.18 million to 3.63 million.

“We will continue to work with our global marketing partners to ensure the success of our new and existing routes,” said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the HTA. “It is also important for us to focus on driving demand during off-peak seasons and distributing visitors across all of the islands.

“With Taiwan’s recent entrance to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program and the new routes we’ve established throughout the Asia Pacific region, we anticipate growing our market share across the globe. The Asia and East Coast routes will allow us to reach new markets such as Southeast Asia and Latin America, and continue to expand our efforts in Europe.”

Despite the increases elsewhere, the Big Island won’t see the same success in selling tickets, according to the HTA.

Seats on flights to Hilo are expected to total 52,288 this year, a loss of 11.6 percent. The bulk of that loss is due to United/Continental bringing to an end in August its once-a-week direct flights to Hilo from San Francisco.

“Some of that might be coming back,” said George Applegate, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau. “It all depends on demand. And I think we’re gonna have a real good year this year with tourism.”

Reed Shigeoka, United’s general manager at the Hilo and Kona airports, said Friday that the airline intends to resume in June its direct flights between San Francisco and Hilo, which were canceled in August.

“It will be once a week on Saturdays, nonstop, totaling an additional 160 seats per week,” Shigeoka said. “It’ll just be for the summer season.”

He anticipates the flights will run during the busy season from June 7 to Sept. 6.

As for Kona, that airport will see a 3.3 percent drop, with a total of 613,055 seats expected to be sold. The recent addition of flights from Anchorage, Alaska, San Jose and Oakland, Calif., will help, somewhat, but losses in seats from Denver, Colo., Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle, paired with a decrease in domestic seats will serve to hurt ticket sales on the leeward side, compared with last year.

Even so, Applegate said he anticipates a number of conventions on the island this year, which will help to market Hawaii Island to more visitors. He also anticipates a number of “hotel buyouts” during those conventions, when hotels on the island will be left with no vacancies.

“We’ve got a lot of groups coming in this year, and wherever you have demand, airlines will change their schedules,” he said.

In its report, the HTA says it anticipates domestic airline seats to reach their highest level since 2007, and international seats are expected to reach their highest point since 2000.

“With more than 268,000 added air seats, the Japan market is expected to see an addition of more seats into Hawaii than that from any other major market area in 2013,” the report reads. “Total scheduled seats from Japan are expected to rise 14.5 percent, pushing the total seat count for the market over the 2 million mark for the first time since 2001.”

The Oceania region, including Australia and New Zealand, is identified as the state’s fastest growing region, with air seats expected to grow 41.5 percent this year.